Inlaws, Outlaws and Aliens

Wow, it’s been over a month since my last blog entry. This was a deliberate move on my part as, after careful consideration I decided that I would not do a weekly blog during our trip back to the UK as it was not all directly related to #projectFrance. However, I feel that a summary of our month long trip would be a good idea.

So, we embarked on our 1000km trip back to the UK on 1st June. The primary reason for the trip back was to provide moral support if necessary for our youngest who has been sitting exams. But also, we had a few hospital appointments, and some dental appointments, and as we left the UK amidst a bit of a drama back at the beginning of May we thought it would be lovely to spend some time catching up with family to update them on how our house building/land acquiring plans were going.

First stop was Broadstairs to visit James, Nicola, Henry and Chloe, and we had a lovely visit to the seafront with themChloe, Henry and Luka at the seaside……..and a much looked forward to Indian Takeaway, and an even more looked forward and very much needed bath for me!! It’s not that I hadn’t been showering at all – far from it – it’s just that with only 3 minutes of warm water, showers “a la camping-car” are short and sweet and merely functional. Not like the lovely, relaxing bath with my soothing bath products that I took in their bathroom. Only the promise of the Indian takeaway being ordered was enough to get me out of there. Indian food is something I do miss when in France as there is no such thing as an Indian Restaurant or Takeaway – at least not in rural SW France as are we – maybe in the cities – we haven’t found out yet

We also managed to squeeze a quick catch up with friends Matt and Hannah – who were great friends of Dad and Ann – and it is always lovely to speak to people who know the land well (as they do) and completely “get” what we are trying to achieve.

Then it was off to Chandlers Ford where we used to live. Lots of family to visit here, including my mum, daughter, Martin’s son’s and of course our lovely “daughter-outlaw” Lisa. That’s an ex in-law to you and I. Sadly, a marriage break-up means that she now gets the coveted title of “outlaw” – of which we have a few!! We get on really well with all our “out-laws” – maybe they know something we don’t ha ha!! Enough said about that maybe??? Lisa is also mum to our super cute nearly 4 year old Grandson Max – who we took to the New Forest for some great adventures. New Forest with Max collage

We found a campsite in Ampfield to set up base, negotiated a bit of a discount for a long stay (always on a look out for a bargain and after living rent free for a month in France it was a shock to the system to find campsites cost nearly as much as a mortgage). We were blessed with superb weather for the whole of our trip, and it was really lovely to be able to set up a comfortable base in which we could spread out a bit. Shiloh Luka and Lillie

 

 

The doggos were delighted to also meet up with one of their favourite doggo friends – Shiloh and the three of them enjoyed a “tail wag” whilst the humans enjoyed a “chin wag”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whilst in Ampfield we re-connected with old neighbours of ours, who used to live a few doors up the road from us until they saw the light and moved away to a place that is more aligned with the life they want to lead – much like us. They now live in a charming house, with lots of land, on which they can enjoy a life of partly self-sufficiency, and look after some gorgeous rescue ponies – Alwyn and Fergus. Martin quite literally bumped into John whilst out walking the dogs, and they recognised each other. This led to an invitation to dinner and then a return visit to us at the campsite. It was so lovely to spend time with like minded people, and even more so because they are all (including their lovely daughters) vegan – so this led to lots of interesting conversations and sharing of recipes – in particular a kale and chickpea and spelt salad which introduced me to spelt and got me back into kale in a huge way. We were given a guided tour of their raised beds and now Martin has purchased a book to help us on our way back in France. We both felt very envious of their beautiful sunset over the stunning Ampfield woods but of course soon we will have our own stunning sunsets over the woods our of our own kitchen windows. Sunset over Ampfield Woods

Hulk

 

One of the first things to sort out was to find a Mitsubushi L200 – the vehicle we had decided would tick all the boxes for our needs for a vehicle in France. We were lucky to find HULK very quickly into our trip (named due to his number plate) and in order for me to gain confidence we decided that it would make sense for me to follow Martin and Marsha (the motorhome) around when we set off on our inlaws and outlaw visits for a week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gin and Tonic.jpg

 

 

 

 

We also caught up with other good friends, and shared a few meals – most notably the cheesiest pizza I have even had – dare I say it TOO cheesy!! Also, a lovely family meal with Ryan popping over from Bournemouth. And did I mention a fair few Gin and Tonics – another thing that I do miss from England and fully intend to take at least 3 bottles back with me each time for the Gin Bar which I will most definitely be having in our new house. Gin and Tonic at Bayleaves

After said daughter had completed exams and celebrated with family Family mealand this anxious mummy was assured that she was happy with how they have gone and was about to embark on a week long bender that would not require parental supervision – we ventured up towards the East of the Country to spend some time with another “outlaw” – this time ex sister in law Sarah, and her partner Gary.

 

 

Ev's GravestoneSarah is the much loved mum of Evan who sadly had a fight with cancer and didn’t win – very tragically lost at the age of 13. Evan’s loss has had a profound effect on all of us. Yes, it was awful to lose my Dad and Step Mum to cancer, but I have no words to describe how I feel about a 13 year old boy having to fight this awful disease. However, time spent with Sarah always is (and always has been) extremely upbeat and fun, she’s funny, brave, kind and clever – and we love her for that.

3 days went quickly and we were soon on our way to my brother Stephen who lives in Colchester. We pitched up at a campsite and picked him up to bring  his over for a homecooked curry, a few beers, and for him to do his part of the paper-work for the transfer of ownership. The said paperwork consisted of no fewer than 52 pages – all of which were in French, and had been sent over VERY late on Saturday evening – the French certainly do like living on a knife edge!! Google translateThanks to Google Translate and a huge amount of patience we were able to satisfy ourselves that we are not selling our souls, but agreeing with the succession plans according to French law, and I am buying James and Stephen out of their shares so that me and Martin can build on the land. My comedian of a brother (Stephen) had cracked a few jokes about wanting to keep his share and rent it out to me – but as he was talking in Francs and not Euros I figured he had no idea what he was talking about

 

 

Then on to North London to visit the notorious Mother In Law!! She’s actually not bad for a MIL – although I always do find that my dear husband resorts back to child like behaviour when he visits and wants to raid the biscuit cupboard and other boy like stuff!! We were able to do a ridiculous amount of washing at her house, and also give the motorhome a much needed and very thorough wash. Although there was plenty of room to park Marsha the Motorhome on her driveway Camping a la Muriel

we stayed inside the house which was a novelty for us – but I found it a bit disconcerting the first night, to have all that space in a bedroom. But another long soak in the bath was much appreciated and caused me to sleep like a baby the second night. We also saw one of my brother in laws, David, whilst there and it was lovely to update him with our plans for our little house. Whilst talking to them both we realised that we will probably be able to fit our teeny little house twice, maybe three times over in MILs house and I wondered if they think we are a bit bonkers. After all, many of the roads in Stanmore are 2 miles long with only 100 or so houses in them. Now we have spent so much time full time in the motorhome it all seems a bit alien to us to have multiple bathrooms, and enough space in a house to watch TV in one room whilst someone else is in another room.

 

That was the last stop on our epic round the UK in a week trip, and then it was back down to Ampfield for a few days to see everyone down there again before heading back. Owen and Hannah

We enjoyed seeing everyone a great deal, but the time spent back in the UK did confirm to us a few things. One being that the roads are so much nicer in France – so quiet in comparison. And also, that we most definitely no longer want the life of a hamster on a wheel- continually running around, getting no-where, trying to earn enough to pay for a life we don’t really want. For that realisation that has come at a time which means we are young enough to really fully reap the benefits of the new life we have chosen, we are very grateful. Our little home on wheels has taught us a lot – most importantly that if it doesn’t fit in a 17 sq metre motorhome we probably don’t need it. We are still adjusting to that life, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a hardship, although we do realise that to some people our lives must appear to be very alien. But, it’s the same for us – we now find the traditional model of domesticity to be quite alien to ourselves – and so, when people’s faces have shown a look of sympathy for the hard life we must be leading without our TV and vast amounts of space we share a wry smile and whisper “if only they knew”.It's not how big the house is

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Please Mr Postman

It’s been an active and eventful week this week that’s for sure. Once I’d set my mind to walk 5km every morning I was really pleased that first Nic, and then Carol decided to join me. So, every morning this week at least 2 of us have walked the 5km route – leaving at 7.15am – bright and early to get it done before it gets too hot. I’m not going to mention the small point that the first morning Nic turned up to join me I was still it bed (oh whoops I just did mention it). It was partly her fault, partly mine, a bit embarrassing and resulted in a very sleepy me literally being out of the door in about 7 minutes flat and feeling rather dazed and confused for the first few km.

As the week has progressed the walking group has evolved to a running group as well. Not sure how that happened but Carol knows a guy Steve etc. etc. and before I could say “but my knees are knackered and my boobs are too big to run downhill” it was 0800 on Thursday morning and 5 of us – well 7 if you want to count Luka and Lillie too – were off on the hilliest run I’ve ever done in my life!! 20 minutes out and 20 minutes back.

Running group Luka
Luka is my all time favourite running partner
Running group Lillie
Lillie looking the part in her little running harness

 

Very hard for me and I was the slowest – but I enjoyed it and went back for more this morning – 0800 on a Sunday!! For a run!! Unheard of in my previous life!!

 

Yoga shadowI have also revived my yoga practice and am now trying in earnest to do 30 minutes most days after my walk. So far this has worked well this week as it’s been sunny and warm and I have been doing it outside, overlooking the trees – which has been a fantastic contrast to my previous yoga studio back in the UK – but I did find I was missing a mirror. But then we doing a pose I caught my shadow and realised I was sticking my butt out the back a bit too much and was able to correct it really well by just looking at my shadow!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday was a really active day – as well as the 5km walk we also had all our worldly goods arriving in the removal van. This was exciting and frustrating in equal measures. Back in England we had stressed the limited access to the storage barn, and (we thought) agreed that they would bring a small truck but in the preceding few days via a few frustrating phone calls it became apparent that they were going to bring a larger lorry. So, we were both a little nervous about this.

You’ll see from the photo that it was a challenge for them!! It’s a very steep and narrow slope – it took about 45 minutes for them to get up there!!Removal van

Enough said about that – I don’t want my blog to be moany but I was disappointed that they didn’t take any notice of us and also even more disappointed that there were a lot of broken items – luckily nothing irreplaceable but it would seem they didn’t take a great deal of care of our possessions. So, everything we own in this world apart from the things we managed to squeeze into the motorhome are now in storage until we build a house to fill up. It’s a good job we had a good de-clutter before we packed it all as I really do not want to EVER move house again!!

We were very grateful that we were going to our neighbour Alice’s for supper that evening and we had a lovely, chilled out evening with her and as always, a bottle of wine and hearing more of her crazy stories unwound our coiled springs.

Thursday evening was another fantastically chilled evening with friends Carol and Craig. Lovely homemade pizza by Craig, and salads from Carol – and lots of Gin and Tonic and Rose Wine – lovely. All enjoyed sat outside looking out on to lovely French landscape and we were completing spoilt by a stunning sunset – see the photo and I swear there were no filters on this picture. Just simply stunning!!Loubejac sunset

Friday evening was the Fete des Voisins (Neighbours Day) which was in the village at the Halle – which is the covered market area. Large tables were put out, and everyone coming brings a plate of food to share and some drinks. Fete du voisinsThe idea is to get to know your neighbours. It was a really fun evening – lots of wine, I tried “l’eau du vie” for the first (possibly last) time and got up with some young French girls (and some older English girls) for a little boogie.

Martin finally got around to fixing the post box up this week. The said post box was found in the ruin and previously belonged to Dad and Ann, but we have never found the corresponding post. But Martin found an old wooden post on a rubbish pile down in the village so used that to fix it on – hey presto – our very own post box!!

He ventured down to La Poste to check that we have our address correct as technically we are within the Bourgale estate but our access is via another track. He explained to the post woman that we were going to send ourselves a post card to test it out – much to her amusement! With a little shrug she said the post takes “un jour, deux jours?” So, he posted the Post Card – which has full written instructions for the post man on exactly how to get to us….and waited…………….and waited…………..and waited. Every day, we checked the post box singing this song in our heads

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vAqE0AvEqwAvEqw

Day One – nothing

Day Two – nothing – but we did have loads of junk mail

Day Three – nothing

Day Four – nothing

Then when we thought maybe it had got lost – on Saturday!!

Post card has arrived

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Result!! It’s official – we can now have food parcels sent to us!!

At least now we will have a proper post box to have notes from Alice left it – although I must say it was rather sweet to come home to this on Saturday morning – it was left on our camping table outside the motorhome

Note from Alice

She had very kindly agreed to “doggo sit” for Luka and Lillie whilst we attended Bernard’s 90th Birthday Party – which was great fun. I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like to be 90 years old but he’s looking good on it – and given that he was a similar age to me now when he first came out and was in very poor health I think that’s a very good indicator that life out here could be the healthy option – let’s hope so!!Joyeux Anniversaire

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

 

 

 

The Princess would like a tower!

Hopping on the scales last week and realising that a multitude of French bread and fromage has led to the inevitable weight gain I have been dreading, has resulted in lots of walks this week. We were lucky enough to bump into our English “neighbour” Katie (I say neighbour loosely as her house is directly above our land but about 1.5km away-so forget the English concept of next door neighbours) whilst out walking on Sunday and she showed us a lovely 5km circular walk which takes in some of the lovely scenery around the Bastide.

5km circular walk

 

 

 

It’s all uphill around here so the walks have been lung busting and strenuous in my attempt to utilise them to replace my previous exercise regime of 3 – 6 high impact up exercise classes a week.

 

 

 

 

Poppies

 

 

The lanes are in full, beautiful French bloom at this time of year and the recent rain, rain and more rain that we have had has really caused the wild flowers to burst out in their Springtime glory.

Poppies have always been one of my favourite flowers – and remind me of my Dad and Ann (as they were in full bloom in Acol (a village near Margate) when they were in their last weeks (and also of my Grandad who I called “Poppy”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a novelty for me and the dogs to do our walking on roads for a significant part of the route – but I have to say it is a breath of fresh air to be able to count on one hand the number of cars that pass us – and ALL without exception slow down to pass us. There’s also loads of wild life – including cows, donkeys and even deer.

Hee Haw 2

Deer
Almost looks like a painting on the side of the house – there were two of them – so close to us

Whilst out on the many walks and drives we have done over the last 2 weeks we have pondered over our choice of style for the house which we will be building. Initially our plans had been to build a simple, single story wooden house, then we changed our mind and decided to go for a brick built house – two rectangles joined together in a lazy V shape. But, seeing the lovely French farmhouses with their quirky, often irregular shapes got me thinking again that we should be putting something a little different into our design.

Tower through the trees
The Bourg Tower showing it’s beautiful medieval splendour through the trees

So after much pondering, and a fly away comment to Peter the retired architect (“you should get up high to see the view”) it was decided – The Princess would like a tower!! Not a massive, huge Rapunzel, medieval tower – just a nice, sensible sized tower to get up high and be able read the gazillions of books that we have accumulated over the past decade in the hope that one day we would build a reading loft somewhere in the Dordogne!! That sort of tower!!

So, when our builder Laurent came for an RDV (that’s rendezvous to you and I) we told him of the changes and between our bit of French, his bit of English, and Google translate – we came up with a plan to take the new ideas forward. We’re hoping that by taking a few bits from the original plans (like electric shutters (which we didn’t want anyway) and the terrace (which we will do at a later date)) the quote for the new improved “maison avec tower” will come in about the same as before. Fingers (and everything else) crossed!! This photo is not the plans for our house – but this is a style similar to what we are hoping for.

Plans for the house style we like
No swimming pool for us, and also no undercover terrace – but this is pretty much what we are aiming for shape wise. We will add character to this with wooden shutters and decorative brickwork

So, that’s all very exciting!!

Also exciting is the news that the geneologists report has FINALLY arrived, and to our great relief there are just the three of us spawned to my dad!! No wild oat sowing on his part to worry about!! So, the transfer of ownership for the land can now be done. Disapointingly though it’s taken all week to pin down the Notaire to any news of progress and we are still waiting to here!! The French system is certainly sent to try us.

Someone said to me this week “when you first move to France you wonder if you have made the right decision, you wonder if this is the right country for you as everything seems to go wrong”. It’s so true……it feels as if it is just us who are being subjected to the ridiculous lengths of time to get things sorted out – but it’s not just us – it’s just the way it is!! Tres slow!! We need to adapt and to learn patience, and also resilience – and plenty of it – as things change constantly – they rarely go to plan – we just need to go with the flow. And take time to stop for a while and enjoy our beautiful surroundings and have fun.

And celebrate the small successes and progress – like getting to the end of the bit of strimming that revealed the lovely view of the village nestled below us. A village is revealed

 

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

 

 

Settling in around town

So…. we’ve been here for just over a week now, and things have been really busy – non-stop in fact!!

There’s been the serious business of trying to progress the transfer of ownership to deal with, and the even more important business of socialising to contend with!!

Our social calendars are buzzing!! We’ve been for more coffee dates, and meals out than we have done for ages!! It’s lovely! We are feeling as if we are becoming well integrated with the local community – albeit that is mostly – but not exclusively – the English community. It’s all good though. The Maire recognised me when I popped in to his store for some veg, and a few other French people have also recognised us when we have been out and about.

Living life in a van (after all that’s what our motorhome is – a Fiat Ducato that has been converted to include a living space) has its challenges. We are quite literally on top of each other for 24 hours a day – and it’s a small space……and tempers fray!! It’s important to find ways to overcome this, and one of the ways we do it is to not do “everything” together. So, for example, I will stay in bed whilst Martin goes to the boulangerie in the morning with the dogs – that’s after he has made me a mug of coffee!! Oh, I suppose that’s not really the right spirit is it? It’s not far – here’s his route: –

Pain run

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I have to confess that it was bliss to spend last Saturday morning slowly wandering around the village market and then having a peaceful cup of tea in the café watching the world go by – all on my own. Little things like that go a long way to help us not be in too close proximity.

Solitude and tea

We have been very fortunate that we have now managed to clear the land enough to drive the motorhome up on to the track next to it – and most nights we have been sleeping up here, although we did spend one night back down in the Aire – more about that in another blog I think.

Parked in the track

The first night we didn’t know what to expect – we wondered if the doggos would bark all night at the strange animal sounds – but no, they slept soundly – as did we. The second night we were both woken by a really loud hoot and screech of an owl – really close by! Lovely to hear and a very vivid reminder that we really are in the middle of the woods here. It’s really lovely, very enchanted and we feel very lucky to be embarking on this adventure

Memorial service

Tuesday was the Fete du Printemps – the Spring Fair – which started at 0800 but at 1130 there was a memorial ceremony up at the war memorial outside the Town Hall to mark Armistice Day – the French mark both the 1st and 2nd World War endings. Naturally we could understand very little – but we listened anyhow and tried to take in the general meaning of what the speeches were about.

 

Our friend Carol sang in the choir – they performed the French National Anthem –  La Marseillaise – which was “Tres Bonne” to hear. There were lots of beautiful things to buy at the fair – we are trying to avoid buying “stuff” as we have such a limited space to keep it in, so it was mostly food we bought. I approached a nice looking food stall being run by a nice looking French man and made a brave attempt at my most recently learned French phase – “Pardon, ma Francais ce n’est pas tres bonne” (sorry, my French is not very good) and then “avez vous any vegetarienne” (have you any vegetarian) to which he laughed and said – it’s OK I’ll speak English then – and told me that just about everything was vegetarian – I was really pleased that a French fete had some veggie choices – not at all what my fears had been. Even more so later in the day when we discovered that the crepes and gallettes stand had a vegan option for a crepe – tofu and mushroom. I was naughty though and had 2 fromages!!

All day people were praising the dogs – everyone loves the doggos and comment on how they just lay down, really calm – just waiting for something interesting to happen – or a piece of sausage to fly their way more like. Doggos at the Spring Fair

Then in the evening we went along to the Café de La Poste to watch the local ex pats play pool – and again everyone just loves the doggos – they are settling in really well.

We’re becoming more French by the day – we do the French kissing thing – and we now have a French bank account. The day we met with Brieuc at the local branch of Credit Agricole to set that up was very amusing. We had finished our business with him and were standing in the little foyer just chatting to him. Unlike in England we can take the dogs pretty much everywhere so they had been in his office with us, and they were just minding their own business by our feet. Then someone came in to use the cash point and the dogs leapt up and starting barking excitedly – then we realised it was our friend Carole – who of course the dogs recognised and she probably had treats for her own dog Panda. We all said hello – and Carole gave me the obligatory kiss on each cheek – French style – then Martin and then she turned to Brieuc and kissed him. I just assumed she knew him from the bank and as she has been out here 21 years it was quite feasible that they had become very friendly. I thought nothing more of it until we went over on Sunday for afternoon tea with Carole and Bernard and she confessed her “faux pas” – she had thought Brieuc was with us – maybe even James – and kissed him without thinking. I bet he had quite a shock!!

Top of the range Cadac

So, as I sit here it is 8.30pm on Friday evening – it’s 24 degrees – nice and cool in comparison to the sweltering heat we had earlier today. We’ve had our dinner – cooked outside on the new top of the range Cadac my darling husband bought me to soften the blow of not having a proper kitchen for a year, and we’ve had our Gin and Tonic in the sun (and also a sneaky little after dinner snooze) and I’m thinking – it’s only a grass track – but it’s our grass track!! And it’s our little piece of quietness, and solitude…. And heaven.

 

And if this is to be our temporary home for the next 12 – 18 months (or longer if the French system doesn’t speed up somewhat) then that won’t be so bad will it.

 

Better go now before the grass (quite literally) grows under our feet!!

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

The Back Story

First glimpse of the Propertie Privee sign July 2017The Back Story

 

Rewind to August 2008 – my Dad turned 70 and finally made the decision to give up work and follow his and Ann’s (my lovely step-mum) dream of moving to France. Their house in Frinton went up for rent, they disposed of pretty much all of their belongings and made plans to set off Dans Le Continent in his dated old Volvo.

After some months of exploring their favourite region of France – The Dordogne – they fell in love with Villefranche-du-Perigord and decided that this was “the place”. They rented out a holiday let – La Borie Grande in the outskirts of Villefranche-du-Perigord – whilst they searched for a suitable plot of land to build a house.

To cut a long story short – a fair few months of searching and also a change of rental property to “David” in Lavaur (just outside Villefranche-du-Perigord) (very ironic as Dad’s name is David) they found their dream plot of land through new found friends Bernard and Carole.

Martin and I visited them out in France a few times – and we could see why they loved Villefranche du Perigord so much – it really is the most magical of villages – it’s actually a 12th and 13th Century Bastide Town – so there any many original buildings which resemble mini castles with their turrets and gothic arches. It’s stunning!! Even so, we did find it a bit “sleepy” for us, so we firmly “parked” any ideas that popped in to our heads about ourselves making the move over there.

As well as our visits out to them in France, Dad and Ann also popped back to the UK frequently and stayed with us. On one of these occasions they showed us the outline plans they had for the plot of land that had found, both so excited about their plans – but especially Dad. He wanted to spend hours on the Internet looking for small wooden self-build houses as that was what they had planned for the plot. It all sounded really idyllic and we planned to visit them out in France again that coming summer so we could see for ourselves.

When we visited them, we stayed with them at “David” – camping in our Landrover’s roof tent whilst the kids stayed in the house with them, and they took us out and about to all the surrounding towns and markets, and also a few times to show us the land. When we first saw the land, I have to be perfectly honest and say that I thought they were completely bonkers!!! Perhaps it was the way they drove us in through back roads, or maybe it was the slow speed of Ann’s driving (she was renowned for crawling along nervously like a snail bless her) but we left there with the perception it was miles away from anywhere. We were concerned that they would get old and immobile and be living in the middle of the sticks and starve to death in the Winter. But we said nothing as their excitement and passion for their project was so clear and apparent – why spoil that? – I never saw my Dad so happy about anything in his life as when he talked about “the land”.

Dad and Ann had cleared the top part of the land really well when we saw it, and we could envisage their plans for where the house would go. But the lower part of the plot was still like a jungle, and me with my terrible fear of creepy crawlies, found it really difficult making the steep climb downhill through bushes towards the old ruined buildings. Dad’s enthusiasm for these two buildings however was equal to my horror at them. I did politely go down for a quick viewing of the large one, but once I saw huge cobwebs on the lintels I declined a quick peep inside and hastily made my way back up.

We did leave France thinking that what they were doing was all very lovely, but a bit crazy to say the least!!

So, over the next few years they worked really hard on clearing the land, chopping down a few small trees, but for various reasons they needed to make frequent trips back to the UK – not least due to Dad’s reluctance to get his old Volvo re-registered under a French plate which meant he had to get his insurance renewed every 90 days. It was slow progress….it seemed that they were over there for a few months chopping it all down, and then back in the UK for a few months and it would all grow back so they would start from scratch. They had not sold their house in the UK so did not yet have the funds to start the building work, but they did have outline plans and the water and electricity in situ ready to go. And they had also built a really lovely life over there with lots of new friends and seemed to be having a fantastic time.

Until disaster struck!! And as Dr Sods bloody infallible law would have it, on one of the trips home Dad went for the investigation of a long term persistent cough – and got the worst type of unimaginable news – he had Stage 4 Lung Cancer!! The treatment plan was to see how he responded to chemotherapy – with little hope of cure but at best to prolong his life. But the realistic prognosis was “without treatment 2 months – with treatment 12 months”.

Ann made the call to tell me that, and as usual she remained upbeat and positive but I could tell that she was really devastated. We visited them that weekend and all I can say is that from that point forward I witnessed my Dad die inside. He knew it was “Game Over” for him, and I think all he really focussed on was having some chemo so he could get back out there to get the house built so Ann would have somewhere lovely to live once he was gone. Realistically we all knew that this would not be likely.

So, his treatment in the UK commenced. Their Frinton house was sold to release the capital to buy a mobile home in Margate so Ann would have somewhere close by to James, Nicola, and Henry (their son, daughter in law and grandchild).

Then in April 2013 double whammy hit us hard straight in the balls!! Ann went for a long overdue check-up for some “woman’s health issues” and came away with the devastating news that she had Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. I don’t think any of us could believe this!! Life is just so cruel.

Ann’s illness was very short lived, she didn’t respond well to chemotherapy and her treatment was palliative pretty much straight away. Dad died even more inside but you could tell he was holding on to hope that she would get better, and in some sort of denial in that he didn’t want to see her in hospital.

Nothing will ever imprint on my heart as much as the conversation I had with my Dad when I needed to persuade him to go and see her in the hospital that day as if he didn’t he wouldn’t see her again. As it finally sunk in, I saw the life literally drain out of him.

Ann died a few days later.

Dad gave his last breath on this earth, two months later – in August 2013

Their dreams for “this little piece of land” gone forever

 

Fast Forward to July 2017

 

None of us had been able to face visiting the land after they died. It all seemed too sad. It also seemed a bit worrying that nothing had been done about disposing of the land and we thought maybe there could be some bills to pay, maybe fines for not sorting things out.

Time passed and then in the spring of 2017 Martin and I made some plans to take Marsha the motorhome to the Alps, then on to the Pyrenees for our summer trip. We looked at the return route and it seemed conceivable that we could hang by Villefranche du Perigord and check out how things were. James was happy for us to do this.

So, after a fantastic few weeks in Chamonix then Northern Spain we headed back up. As we got closer to Villefranche du Perigord I started to feel more and more sentimental, thinking more and more about Dad and Ann, and their plans, and what a shame it was that they had never realised those dreams. The final leg of the journey was familiar and brought back loads of memories. When we pulled up at the car park by the lake it all came back to me, and strangely it really felt like I was coming home. This place that I had only been to a handful of times really felt special to me. We had arrived quite late in the day and were hungry so spent the evening walking the dogs, preparing and eating dinner and simply gazing up at the trees in what we thought was the right direction of where the land was.

In the morning we were up bright and early, keen to walk up to see if our memory would serve us well enough to find our way up the tracks to the land. The road seemed familiar but having never walked up it (Ann had driven us on the few times we visited) we were not sure. We had spoken to Bernard the previous day and he said to go up to a hair pin and turn left. The first left seemed to be not sharp enough and too close to the village to be the right track, so we went much further up the road, it all felt familiar, but not quite right. Then we spotted a half-finished house and for a horrible moment I thought that someone else had simply taken over the land. My heart sank and I felt suddenly very possessive of what had been before simply a recce to check things out – now it was a real mission to find it.

We went back down the track, and frustrated thought we had got the completely wrong place, but then decided to go up to the first left hand turn. Wandering up the track we commented on how it felt familiar, but still not sure. Reaching the end of the track and coming across overgrown woodland we thought we had simply reached a dead end. But slowly the realisation dawned – this could be the plot of land – albeit heavily over grown. It was the most overwhelming feeling – our hearts sank – this was a complete jungle – and we were not even sure we were in the right place. Standing, scanning the brambles in front of us, not quite sure what to do, I suddenly spotted a little bit of red through the trees, and on closer inspection realised it was a Propertie Privee sign. Memories flooded back and I remembered seeing photos of my dad standing next to this sign – nailed in to the huge oak tree. It was so emotional, suddenly realising that here we were – stood on the far edge of Dad and Ann’s beloved plot of land, feeling the echoes of their dream, but so, so sad that this little piece of land had not been loved and cherished for over 3 years and had been left for nature to take it back.

I can’t speak for Martin but I know that I made the decision in my heart there and then in that moment that I would do whatever it takes to get this little piece of land back to its former glory. Although my head was telling me otherwise at the time.

So, at that point in time we weren’t sure exactly what to do, or how to do it, but we knew we couldn’t just do nothing anymore. Speaking to James later that day he gave us his blessing and agreement to find out what needed to be done to get the land ownership sorted out so that something could be done to sort it out.

And that is the moment in time when “this little piece of land” ceased to be David and Ann’s tragically unrealised dream, and became Martin and Sharon’s new, different but equally magical dream of our own.

©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018 

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